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Is there a place for a rugged device in your life?

In this Friday Debate, we discuss waterproof, dustproof, and shockproof devices, and what they mean for the Android ecosystem. Join us in the comments.
June 7, 2013

We are all mobile geeks, here at Android Authority. We love everything with a power button. We like to comment the latest news and endlessly argue over which phone is better. On the Friday Debate, we pick a hot issue and proceed to discuss it. Join us!

This week, Samsung took the wraps off the Galaxy S4 Active, a version of the popular S4 that trades the glossy finish for a waterproof and dustproof backplate fixed with screws. Samsung promises that the GS4 Active will make it through the roughest hikes unharmed, all while delivering the same experience one would get from the regular version.

Until now, ruggedness was a narrow niche in smartphones – a few devices provided protection against water, dust, and some mechanical shocks, but the mass market was clearly interested in other things. But that began to change with the Sony Xperia Z, a full blown flagship with looks to die for, and recently, with the Galaxy S4 Active. Are these rugged Android flagships the start of a new trend? Or is waterproofing just another feature manufacturers are eager to cross off a list?

In this Friday Debate, we discuss waterproof, dustproof, and shockproof devices, and what they mean for the Android ecosystem. Join us in the comments.

Derek Ross

There will always be a place in the world for rugged devices. Smartphones aren’t a one size fits all device. Not everyone has the same job or even the same lifestyle. With that said, the Samsung Galaxy S4 is not a rugged device.

Being dust free and water resistant does not make your device rugged. Rugged, to me, applies to the durability of the device. As Larry Page has said numerous times, smartphones shouldn’t go splat when you drop them. Additionally, they should be rugged by default, not a variation released months later after early adopters already purchased the non-rugged editions.

Take Sony for example. The Xperia Z launched with an IP67 score, just like the S4. Sony launched a high quality Android smartphone right the first time. They didn’t need to release another variant down the road to meet those needs.

htc one vs sony xperia z z price aa

Alex Serban

There is definitely a need for rugged devices and I don’t think it will ever fade away. Even though they are usually bulkier than conventional variants I’ve always thought of buying one, especially after I broke my phone’s display three times: twice when playing pool and once when skiing.

As Derek Ross said above, it’s a very unfortunate thing that manufacturers don’t make devices resistant right from the start. Sony can be considered a pioneer in this domain and thanks to it’s successful marketing campaign, I say it caught quite the attention. Especially when the complete package came as a slim, stylish device.

I even dare to say that Sony might have set a trend here. Maybe in the following years, we’ll be fortunate enough to see other important manufacturers strengthening devices right from the start and rugged becoming just a term used by those that work in really harsh conditions.

Everyone drops its phone from time to time. Why pay extra for it?

sony xperia z waterproof

Adam Koueider

I’ve had enough of people telling me that I should just bite the bullet and put a case on my smartphone. “It’s an investment” they say, “you should always protect your investment”.

But the thing is OEMs work very hard to create the fastest, slimmest, best handling smartphone that they can possibly make. Why would I ruin the design and sometimes the actual functionality of the phone by using a case?

I’m going to put it out there, I’m not the best hand gymnast out there, the 2 phones and a tablet sitting in my drawer with shattered displays are an attestment to that, but I still haven’t put a case on my phone.

IP (insert numbers here) means nothing to me, I’ve never had a smartphone break down because of dust (city air isn’t that bad… yet) and I’ve yet to forget my smartphone in my pocket while going in for a late night dip.

That’s not to say that the IP67 protection the Galaxy S4 Active provides won’t be useful to anyone, on the contrary, I have people always asking me which phone is the most rugged. Constructors and builders would find a phone like this very appealing and the ability to take photos under water is no doubt very cool, but that’s not enough.

You’re phone should be able to take a drop or two, regardless of whether it is a rugged phone or not, I (and anyone else who has ever heard the horrific sound of glass cracking on a pavement) am waiting for this breakthrough, and if it can take a dip in the water, and battle its way on through a sand storm then I’d take that as a bonus.

Galaxy s4 vs iPhone 5 drop test (4)

David Gonzales

The more I think about it, the more I wonder, why can’t all phones be rugged phones? Seriously, I would trade lightness or slimness for toughness any day. To me, the Galaxy S4 should have been a rugged device from the beginning.

I may be wrong, but I think the rugged phone category was first invented back when phones were really only good for making actual phone calls — or you know, communication. Now that phones are able to do much more than that, I think the need for there to be some type of assurance that they keep on working has become more important than ever.

I’ll be the first to say, “futureproofing” is really kind of silly. But as phones become more and more powerful, there should be provisions for making sure they stay fully functional many years into a user’s future. I may not want to take my phone swimming or hiking now, but maybe in 3-4 years, if I still have the same phone with me, I will.

Basically, what I’m saying is there should be a ThinkPad of phones — rough, tough, and at least spill-proof. Yet it still belongs in the consumer category instead of having a special category all its own.

Caterpillar CAT B15 CTIA 6 1600 aa

Bogdan Bele

There will always be a part of the market that needs one of these devices, that’s why the Samsung Galaxy S4 Active and other devices like it will have no problem finding buyers.

There are jobs in which a “normal” phone just won’t do, and there are also people that are simply incapable of not dropping their phone a few times a day.

Also, an “active” person or a clumsy one, capable of dropping their phone a few times a day (like my wife, for example) would certainly need one of these devices. And even if you don’t fit into of these categories, a rugged phone should always make a good impression on your friends at parties.

Jokes aside, though, I am among those hoping that all phones will be somewhat “rugged” in the future – a basic level of water and shock resistance would be just perfect.

What’s your take on this? Should all phones be rugged? Are the recent waterproof and dustproof phones a fad or the start of a major change? Tell us in the comments.

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